In the spirit of the holidays, the Houston Texans did something we haven’t seen since October 9th of this year: a victory! In Lovie Smith’s charge of optimism into the offseason, Houston finally gets over the hump of losing in dramatic fashion for the second time this season.
Christian Harris read this one beautifully.— John Crumpler (@JohnHCrumpler) December 24, 2022
Malik Willis looked every bit the part of a project-quarterback today and Harris punished him for tracking so blatantly. Really good stuff #WeAreTexans pic.twitter.com/dNRYYrKNq9
While win number two is still far from what season was expected to be, it’s at least evidence of some kind of improvement after very disappointing start to a new era for the team. Davis Mills nor the Royce Freeman/Dare Ogunbowale rushing attack were able to pile up any impressive amount of yardage, but Tennessee’s passing offense was so absolutely terrible (14-23 for 88 yards, two interceptions, four first downs) that a few clutch fourth quarter turnovers were all Houston needed to gift wrap this upset to every Houston fan.
Davis Mills wasn’t particularly impressive in this game, but his weekly handful of eye-catching throws proved deadly against Tennessee’s weak passing defense:
He also did this, which should never be forgotten:
Heart + hustle— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) December 24, 2022
» @NFLonCBS pic.twitter.com/Jif0lsM5j3
This is what progress looks like. It’s ugly, sloppy, just barely better than what we’ve been watching all season, and it’s uneven. The offense, piloted by Davis Mills, can only go as far through the air as he can muster, which is clearly not very far at all. But, the offensive line and defense have undoubtedly improved, even if it’s only just enough to beat a bad Titans team.
Here’s my personal power rankings entering week 17 of the NFL season. The playoffs are fast approaching, and even though this past week saw several teams punch their card to the dance, there’s still plenty of open seats left to be filled:
- Buffalo Bills (12-3) (Last Week: 2) - Buffalo Bills top the rankings this week after a big win on the ground against Chicago and some turbulence coming Philly’s way. There’s just so many ways the Bills can beat their opponent, it’s hard to see them as anything but the best team in football.
- Philadelphia Eagles (13-2) (Last Week: 1) - Even though Gardner Minshew put up one heck of a performance pinch hitting for Jalen Hurts, the starters’ injury and Lane Johnson’s new injury put Philadelphia is a more compromised state than before. If there was one way for the Eagles to look mortal entering the playoffs, this was it.
- Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) (Last Week: 3) - They nearly choked that one away against a crappy Patriots team, but nothing can stop this defense from making plays. Once again, Cincinnati will enter the playoffs with a good offense, but will almost certainly go all the away again if their defense isn’t successfully countered.
- San Francisco 49ers (11-4) (Last Week: 4) - It’s funny how injury after injury has not derailed the 49ers like it has several other teams - even the 49ers themselves in 2018 and 2020. This year, however, proof of exceptional coaching and team building made it so the 49ers could lay a beating on another NFC playoff contender with third string rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. If there was a defense that could have exposed Brock Purdy, I would’ve guessed the Commanders’. But, with each passing week, Purdy and the 49ers prove me wrong.
- Kansas City Chiefs (12-3) (Last Week: 5) - The Chiefs still aren’t scoring quite as much as expected, but Patrick Mahomes is still Patrick Mahomes. This is the first year I believe there are multiple teams in the AFC that can be trusted to beat them (Buffalo, Cincinnati). Only time will tell if this is a poor prognostication.
- Dallas Cowboys (11-4) (Last Week: 7) - It took everything out of the Cowboys to beat the Gardner Minshew Eagles, but they still did, in fact, beat the Eagles.
- Minnesota Vikings (12-3) (Last Week: 6) - Another wild, incomparable ending for the Vikings, who have gotten used to these last second victories. Will the playoffs be more of the same, or will their luck run out?
- Los Angeles Chargers (9-6) (Last Week: 8) - Now guaranteed a playoff spot, the surging Chargers seek to put the rough first half the season behind them. Entering this season, their stellar roster led many to expect the Chargers to be a top five team all season long. While the messy start still can’t be forgotten, they seem to be realizing the high expectations at the perfect time.
- Baltimore Ravens (10-5) (Last Week: 10) - It’s been a slog of a month for the Ravens, but, unlike last year, they have absorbed to blows to key positions and have punched their ticket to the playoffs. They aren’t very impressive now, but anything is possible once Lamar Jackson is back on the field.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8) (Last Week: 12) - It certainly is strange putting a team with a losing record in the top 10, but Jacksonville has more than proved their mettle in recent weeks. Pending a spectacular collapse, they are likely to nab the AFC South division title and make the playoffs, where anything can happen.
- Miami Dolphins (8-7) (Last Week: 9) - There’s been stretches this season where Miami has looked unbeatable. There’s been stretches this season where Miami has been mortal, but still dangerous on offense. Now, in December, with Tua Tagovailoa entering the concussion protocol, they are in serious trouble.
- Detroit Lions (7-8) (Last Week: 11) - Detroit had finally made it back to .500 and in striking distance of a wildcard spot, but their defense is still drooping and prepared to make the comeback moot. Getting blown out by the Panthers is never a good sign, just ask Seattle.
- New York Giants (8-6-1) (Last Week: 15) - Even though they lost, I’m now more confident in the Giants’ abilities as a playoff team than I was before. For the past months, everything on offense has been hard for the Giants, and scoring became a major issue. Against the Vikings, Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley became a fantastic backfield combo that nearly stole away a victory from Minnesota. It would be nice to see Daniel Jones throw for 250+ more often.
- Green Bay Packers (7-8) (Last Week: 20) - A big, essential win for the Packers on Christmas Day, which, following a Detroit loss, puts both on a collision course with each other. A few weeks ago, I would’ve bet on Detroit to win that matchup. Now? Green Bay looks like they have plenty of options to make it a horse race in the season finale.
- New York Jets (7-8) (Last Week: 13) - The winter collapse has been a brutal one for New York, who had suddenly found their answer at quarterback after much controversy, just to lose him at the most important junction of the season. At some point, Zach Wilson’s failure to turn into the franchise star would kill the Jets, and against Jacksonville, it happened. At least they know he’s not the future.
- Seattle Seahawks (7-8) (Last Week: 14) - It’s been one heck of a weird season for Seattle, who are now in full crisis mode after their third straight loss. They get to play the spiraling Jets next week, but with Mike White returning, it could get interesting for both teams in a must-win matchup.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) (Last Week: 22) - Despite the injuries, the strange defense, Mitchell Trubisky, the turnovers, and everything else, the Steelers are still somehow in playoff contention entering the final two weeks of the season.
- Washington Commanders (7-7-1) (Last Week: 16) - A few weeks ago, Washington looked primed to clinch a playoff spot. But, after two disappointing showing against New York, and now a beat down from the hands of Brock Purdy, their once storybook season looks in danger of ending early. Thankfully, their wildcard competition (Seattle, Detroit, Green Bay) are all still lagging behind.
- Las Vegas Raiders (6-9) (Last Week: 17) - It’s been a very disappointing season for the Raiders, but having an offensive collapse like they did against the Steelers with practically their entire starting lineup returning takes the cake.
- Carolina Panthers (7-8) (Last Week: 23) - Laying a beatdown on Detroit shows, again, Carolina can make some noise if their rushing attack can get going. Will it be enough to beat Tampa Bay in the battle for the division next week? I would assume so, given how poor the Bucs’ defense has been this year, but Carolina is no stranger to bad losses this year.
- New Orleans Saints (6-9) (Last Week: 21) - They may not be moving on my rankings after their surprise win over the Cleveland Browns, but they are still, somehow, in the playoff hunt.
- New England Patriots (7-8) (Last Week: 18) - With the help of the Cincinnati offense freaking out the in the fourth quarter and some luck that would make a Vikings fan stutter, the Patriots were in position to steal one from the Bengals. But, as with many Patriots games this season, it wasn’t enough to get over the hump.
- Tennessee Titans (7-8) (Last Week: 19) - The Titans’ spiral is now looking like a death spiral after Malik Willis showed the league his lack of progress against Houston. Derrick Henry is great, but there’s very little on this offense to be excited about beyond that.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8) (Last Week: 26) - It took everything out of the Buccaneers to eke a win from the Traced McSorley led Cardinals in overtime, but that victory sets the stage for a massive matchup with the Panthers next week. Tom Brady usually wins these games, but this year has seen a lot of first for him in his career.
- Atlanta Falcons (5-10) (Last Week: 24) - Any hope of Desmond Ridder reviving the Falcons’ offense down the stretch has now been dashed, and preparing 2023 has now become the primary goal. Will he play well enough to keep the starting job next year, or will Atlanta use their draft positioning to try a grab a star quarterback? With Arthur Smith’s job likely on the line next year, it’ll be interesting to see how they attack the offseason.
- Los Angeles Rams (5-10) (Last Week: 27) - Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield walloped the Broncos so convincingly on Christmas Day that it got their head coach fired. Mayfield has now almost guaranteed a backup spot on the Rams next year, but has also reignited the conversation of his true potential as a passer. Will this mean anything for the Rams a year from now? Probably not, but maybe!
- Cleveland Browns (6-9) (Last Week: 25) - Yeah, they’re bad. The Browns have been hanging on the fringes of competency all season long, but against the Saints, the floor finally caved in. At least, entering the offseason, they have some clear needs on defense to tackle.
- Chicago Bears (3-12) (Last Week: 29) - At least point, hopping up one spot doesn’t since they looked okay against the Bills for a half isn’t worth much. But, with Houston winning this weekend, they are that much closer to the first overall pick, without even needing a quarterback! Sometime not too far from now, Chicago fans will be celebrating a playoff team.
- Indianapolis Colts (4-10-1) (Last Week: 28) - You know it’s been a bad season when Nick Foles comes in. Indianapolis will almost certainly take a quarterback in this upcoming draft, but even that pick will revolve around “winning now” because of the quality of their defense.
- Houston Texans (2-12-1) (Last Week: 31) - Look at this steady climb up! It may be coming far, far too late, but this Houston Texans team is finally starting to show some weekly improvement all around the roster - except quarterback, of course. Turnovers and complementary football have been the goal from the onset for this team, and finally, against maybe the worst passing performance in recent Titans history, they finally won a game because of it.
- Arizona Cardinals (4-11) (Last Week: 32) - It’s hard keeping the Cardinals this low on the rankings after they took it to the Buccaneers for over 60 minutes of football. On top of that, I have a personal affinity for quarterback Trace McSorley rooting from his success at Penn State before being drafted in the sixth round in 2019 by the Ravens. It was a long time coming for his first NFL start, but, unfortunately, it did not have the same glitz and glamour of his classic Penn State performances.
- Denver Broncos (4-11) (Last Week: 30) - With a loss that’s bad enough to get your crappy first year head coach fired, Denver has earned the last place spot on my power rankings. Where does Denver even go from here? You’d assume there has to be a coordinator somewhere that can make Russell Wilson and Javonte Williams work, but Wilson’s performance this year puts that in serious doubt. Although I don’t believe they will be moving on from him this offseason, I wouldn’t be surprised in they bring in another established quarterback to compete with him in 2023.
Next week, the Texans will try to play upset for the second time in a row as they host the surging Jacksonville Jaguars, the only other team Houston has bested this season. Jacksonville has transformed since the previous matchup with the Texans, but Lovie Smith has finally showed what this team is capable of when everything is clicking. This defense is going to force turnovers on Sunday, so the game will likely come down to Davis Mills’ ability to spur points off of turnovers, and the Houston backfield’s ability to keep Jags QB Trevor Lawrence out of the end zone. Another upset win would be a great way to kick off 2023!